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Thursday, November 3, 2011

“In My Next Life....”

Sometimes I like to say, “In my next life, I’m going to be High Maintenance.” In that scenario I imagine myself commanding every room, like visiting royalty, and not giving a rip how much anyone else might be annoyed by my indifferent take-over. Yeah, right. I know! Not in a hundred lifetimes would that be me!

But say it’s a different career path that looks alluring. “In my next life, I’ll be a geologist,” I occasionally say. Not that I want to work for an oil company--no, I’m thinking more of those survey camping/field trips up into the Boundary Waters, exploring and mapping, and, of course, being able to identify rock samples, knowing how old every stone is and how it was formed. So what’s stopping me now? If I really cared all that much?

Fact is, I’m not counting on a “next life,” don’t have any sense of having had “past lives,” and don’t expect an “afterlife.” This one life I have is the only life I expect, and I believe (despite these silly imaginings) that it’s up to me to live it well and to make it what I want, within the constraints of my starting place and historical and circumstances. Whatever “garbage” I need to shed, I believe I’ve picked it up in this lifetime, and the same for whatever good “karma” (I’d call that goodwill) I’ve accumulated. If I live well and treat people decently, I believe I’ll be happier and make the world a better place than if I live and treat people badly.

Is mine a boring point of view? Not to me. Odds are, anyway, that if “past lives” were reality I’d have been scrabbling around for a crust with the faceless, illiterate hordes, not ruling the surrounding countryside from a castle.

No, this is my time, and I’m happy with it. I was born into a post-Hitler world that still had passenger trains running, and as a kid I got to ride them often. Being a woman did not keep me out of university. My world is one of freedom, nature, art and books, not only for me but for more and more people worldwide. And while I’ve never been (and never expect to be) wealthy, I am able to do my small part for those less fortunate. So all in all, I call this a good life, a downright priceless gift of a life.

But what of those who believe in reincarnation, who believe they have lived before and will live again, in other bodies and other parts of the world? “Doesn’t it explain a lot that’s hard to make sense of otherwise?” a friend asked me years ago. I remember where we were standing when she asked the question. It felt to me as if the Grand Canyon had opened up between us. But we are still friends.

How so? Because pragmatically, there is no distance between us effected by our diametrically opposed beliefs. We both try to live good lives—she for what it means to her in terms of future lives, I because I believe this is my only chance at life. Our reasons are different. So what? It’s like the difference another friend and I discovered when she acknowledged that she thought the universe had a specific plan for her life and I admitted that I didn’t think any such plan was setting up personal lessons for me. The sameness of our living is that both of us look to see what we can learn from whatever happens to us, so (again) pragmatically there is no difference in how we approach life.

Wow, I didn’t plan to go on and on like this on the subject when I set out this morning! What got me started was thinking again about The Book of Lost Fragrances, by M. J. Rose, and how that fictional story required that I perform a “willing suspension of disbelief” in order to enter its world. (What I wrote earlier about the book can be found here.) For quite a way into the story, I kept pulling back, and part of my hesitancy the author encouraged, through the doubts of the main character. Maybe her traumatic experiences were psychotic episodes rather than insights into former existences? This uncertainty added to the story’s interest.

I said in my last post--and not for the first time--that I love the way books let me travel through space and time. Rose’s novel took me back to ancient Egypt, forward to modern New York, and gave me long stretches in my beloved Paris. The story was engaging, entertaining and suspenseful. I particularly appreciated the author’s lingering, voluptuous descriptions of aromas, scents, smells—call them what you will.

Buy a novel’s philosophy wholesale or take it on trial for the length of the book? Either way is possible. Reading knows no boundaries to the possible!


Kathy said...

Sometimes I believe in past lives and other times--not at all. I did have series of dreams for years of escaping from the Nazis. Whether or not I lived in that time, I certainly have spent many midnight hours in that world in this life.

Like you, I believe that this life is where our attention must focus. It is a good life--a downwright priceless life. This was a lovely thoughtful blog.

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Kathy. As you point out, dreams are a rich lode of other lives within this one. Your bringing up dreams gets my mind churning all over again, but that will keep for another post. Thanks for visiting. I know you do not take this life/world for granted! said...

I always used to joke that "in my next life" I would deal in stamps, instead of heavy, heavy books!

Lovely post.

P. J. Grath said...

Pretty funny, Helen, and a coincidence, too, as David often says he will be married to a stamp dealer rather than a bookseller in his next life! Whenever we're schlepping heavy boxes around, he makes a hee-haw noise and reminds me that he is a "donkey for literature." The phrase comes from my graduate school days, when a friend remarked of our teaching undergraduate classes that we were "donkeys for philosophy."

Gerry said...

I am captivated by the notion of taking a book's philosophy on trial for the length of the read.

I say "In my next life" all the time, but what I really mean is, "If I had a do-over . . . " I guess what I really hope, as I gaze about me at the wreckage of some fresh disaster, is that I won't lose the lesson.

P. J. Grath said...

I think what I mean is, "If I had several lives to live simultaneously...." And I'm not even sure I mean that. It's more a joke. Use a second chance or a parallel life to be a demanding, selfish person? Do I really mean that? Geology, that's another story.

Dawn said...

I think I sometimes wish I could have several parallel lives too..because there's so much I want to experience and one life is just not time enough.